Short Classics Project: Book Review – The Misanthrope

Author: Molière

Rating: 5/5 stars

Book Blurb: Molière understood profoundly what makes us noble, pathetic, outrageous and funny, and in his splendid comedies satirized human folly to perfection. One of the best of his plays — and one of the greatest of all comedies — is The Misanthrope, first performed in 1666, when the King of France himself had assumed patronage of Molière’s company, and the actor/playwright was at the height of his career.

Spotlighting the absurdities of social and literary pretension, The Misanthrope shows us a man who is quick to criticize the hypocrisies, inconsistencies and faults of others, yet remains blind to his own. As “the misanthrope” grows more and more irritable with others, the play becomes more and more entertaining, even as a happy ending for the hero seems less and less likely.

I had to double check that this satire was really written in 1666. The themes were so timely!

Our protagonist, Alceste, was so self righteous that he was someone I would not choose to spend a lot of time around. His friend, Philinte, was my favorite character, basically telling him to chill the heck out and that he would be better off if he would just take people as they were and not be so judgmental and severe. One of my favorite passages is this one, where Philinte says:

Don’t take the manners of the time so hard!

Be a bit merciful to human nature;

Let us not judge it with the utmost rigour,

But look upon its faults with some indulgence

I see a hundred things each day, as you do,

That might be better, were they different;

And yet, whatever I see happening,

I don’t fly in a passion, as you do;

I quietly accept men as they are,

Make up my mind to tolerate their conduct,

And think my calmness is, for court or town,

As good philosophy as is your choler

You see, Alceste prided himself on an unyielding, tactless ‘honesty’ that he thought was vital to his integrity. He was pharisaical. And because he mercilessly picked apart imperfect people, he delusionally thought himself the only virtuous person left well…anywhere. His harshness made him so… brittle. My favorite part was when Philinte was counseling him about a particular situation and said in so many words, ‘You know this is not as bad you think, I’m sure you could talk this out and come to a compromise’ and the main character was all ‘nope, I’m not even gonna try cuz I can wear this trial as a badge of honor and complain about it for all my days and everyone can see how virtuous I am’- and I felt like this described half the people I knew. An attitude of my virtuousness trumps my own peace, that of others and even a meeting of the minds – the goal is to win, not win over, or to reach another’s heart and come to an understanding.

I love the examination of these themes. I liked that it made me see myself in both characters depending on what the situation is. I liked that the comedy made it easier to hear both sides in a way I would not have otherwise.

Anything that gets you thinking on this level about yourself and the world around you is worth a read. It’s short, it may take an hour or two to read, but it will stay with you much longer than that.



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